Principles and Heresies

Principles and Heresies

by Kevin J. Smant
     
 

In his roles as author, editor, columnist, activist, and amateur political philosopher, Frank Straus Meyer (1909-1972) played a decisive role in birth and growth of the post-World War II American conservative movement. Though he possessed a fiery and provocative personality, Meyer served as a unifying figure for conservatives because of his efforts to "fuse" the…  See more details below

Overview

In his roles as author, editor, columnist, activist, and amateur political philosopher, Frank Straus Meyer (1909-1972) played a decisive role in birth and growth of the post-World War II American conservative movement. Though he possessed a fiery and provocative personality, Meyer served as a unifying figure for conservatives because of his efforts to "fuse" the traditionalist and libertarian strands of conservatism, which then, as now, were often at odds. His untiring labors paid off, providing the necessary cohesion for a fractious movement to eventually sweep to power with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, Meyer's fusionist outlook has been adopted, at least implicitly, by virtually every self-identified conservative organization in America.

Like many of his contemporaries who eventually gravitated to the Right, as a young man Meyer was a radical revolutionary dedicated to the overthrow of the United States government. The Communist Party USA used him in a number of capacities: as an undercover recruiter at the University of Chicago; as a student organizer at the London School of Economics, from which Meyer was expelled for distributing communist literature; and as its educational director in the Indiana-Illinois region. But Meyer and his wife Elsie broke with the Party in 1945. Living in Woodstock, New York, the Meyers, out of fear of lethal retribution from the Party, slept with a loaded rifle next to the bed and developed a nocturnal lifestyle, which they maintained for the remainder of their lives.

From Woodstock, Meyer began to write for conservative and libertarian periodicals, and when William F. Buckley Jr. offered him an editorial post at National Review in 1957, he was quick to accept. For fifteen years he was both the literary editor and a regular columnist for National Review. It was during these years that in his books and articles he developed and defended his view that both freedom and virtue were necessary for human flourishing, and that one could not exist without the other. Kevin Smant's engrossing biography pays considerable attention to Meyer's work and influence at National Review, where he served as the conscience of the magazine, always attempting to keep it true to its principles-and, when necessary, excommunicating heretics.

Smant also chronicles and analyzes the response of Meyer and others on the Right to the rise of Joseph McCarthy, Barry Goldwater, the John Birch Society, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon, among many other major events and personalities of the postwar period. In the process, he demonstrates Meyer's vital role in the creation of a unified conservative political movement. Written for both the scholar and the layman, Principles and Heresies is an important contribution to a largely unexplored area of American political and intellectual history.


About the Author

Kevin J. Smant is Professor of History at Indiana University, South Bend. He has also taught at the University of Notre Dame, Valparaiso University, and Manchester College and is the author of Hoe the Great Triumph: James Burnham, Anticommunism, and the Conservative Intellectual Movement. M. Stanton Evans is President of the National Journalism Center and author of The Theme is Freedom.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781882926725
Publisher:
ISI Books
Publication date:
05/01/2002
Pages:
425
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.40(d)

What People are saying about this

William C. Dennis
Thirty years after his death, Frank S. Meyer remains one of the most interesting and thoughtful defenders of American freedom. It was Meyer's insight (developed with all the force of his colorful personality) that in the American context the seemingly contradictory positions of classical liberalism, with its emphasis on liberty, and traditional conservatism, with its concern for virtue, were not only reconcilable, but dependent on each other. This fusionist position needs to be studied again by each generation of American conservatives.
— editor of the Liberty Fund edition of In Defense of Freedom and Related Essays

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