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What Would Frank Say?

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(Luba Kolomytseva) A Firing Line conversation with Frank Meyer biographer Daniel Flynn

There are times in the affairs of men when you need a Frank Meyer. This may be one of them.

Meyer, an editor of this journal from 1956 until his death in 1972, was the man who more than any other was responsible for the shape — the intellectual contours — of the modern conservative movement. His approach was called fusionism, by which he intended that conservatives should fuse their two rooted and irrepressible impulses, the one a love for tradition and the other a hunger for personal liberty. To Meyer, these were not impulses in conflict. Nor were they just traits that might be expected to exist congenially within a conservative temperament. Meyer believed that they cohered: that in combination they could produce a rounded and synergistic codependence, and thereby become a guiding disposition for conservatives of different stripes.

Meyer came to fusionism at the end of a long and twisted road. He had spent his youth — misspent, if you insist — as a Communist. In the cold eyes of his party bosses, he was a good Communist. He could mix it up with the best parlor dialecticians even as he out-hustled them on the streets and out-organized them in the beer halls. Meyer was still in his twenties when the CPUSA handed him responsibility for training all cadres in Illinois and Indiana. But then came the Hitler–Stalin pact, and the ideological whiplash it produced, followed by credible reports of horrific conditions inside the Soviets’ workers’ paradise. Meyer was shaken, and then stirred to deep reflection.

When they broke with the party — Frank’s wife, Elsie, was also a well-lettered and committed Communist — the Meyers feared reprisal from hit squads and retreated to a rural area in the mini-mountains north of New York City. Frank withdrew his modest inheritance and bought a house in the small Catskills town of Woodstock. (A master tactician, Meyer was not at his best in this instance. Woodstock, a notably progressive town, was home to more

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