What traditionalists brought to fusionism was the claim that the “left” embodied a materialistic outlook divorced from God or transcendent order. Conservatives excoriated liberals as morally void. They convinced themselves that deviation from market orthodoxy was flirting with materialism, assuming their own—supposedly natural—economic principles were beyond question. In his tract God and Man at Yale, Buckley had claimed “the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world.” He added that “the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.” This equation of moral transcendence and free markets became, in the context of the Cold War, a potent rhetorical edifice and in turn a dogma for generations of conservative activists, politicians and voters. Perhaps now it is beginning to crack.
Joshua Tait is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina.