Fusionism And The “Coalition Government”

Doug today had a very good post on the concept of Libertarian/Conservative Fusionism.

Suffice to say that I agree with him on the basic points, but had another take that is just too much to put into comments.

It seems that the Conservative groups understand that they’re not a majority on their own, but that they’re greater in number than libertarians. It also seems that Liberals understand the same things. And both groups see that they have SOME policy positions in common with libertarians, although as Doug aptly points out, often we arrive at similar policies based upon completely different first principles. So both groups believe that by getting the support of libertarians, they achieve a majority and can enact their policy goals. And they think that for libertarians, getting *some* of our goals is better than none of our goals, so we should come along for the ride.

At heart, the idea of “fusionism” vs “surrender” is key. And it’s one that Doug brought up, and as I said, I’m in agreement there. Either Conservatives or Liberals see a libertarian fusionism as a way to grow THEIR power, not as a way to grow OUR power. Both groups are not libertarian and don’t want libertarian ideas to grow. So in each case, they want our numbers but not our ideas — they want surrender.

As libertarians, though, we understand that our numbers make us large enough to be a key swing voting block if we acted in unison (granted, it’s tough to get libertarians to do ANYTHING in unison). The key is that we want that voting block power to actually result in policy changes that reflect libertarian policy. The major parties want fusionism on election day and for us to then shut up every other day.

Fusionism in the United States is untenable as a method for advancing libertarianism. We should reject it.

Now, that’s a bold statement. But the simple fact is that fusionism in a first-past-the-post direct representation voting system allows major parties to forget about the “fusion” part of fusionism as soon as the election is won. There is no incentive for them to continue placating libertarians once they’ve gained power. Which is why, of course, you only see the “out of power” party talking about fusionism, as we saw in the initial “liberaltarianism” talks back in the Bush days, and why we see Conservatives reaching out to us now.

The problem is the voting system. And we will NEVER have a viable libertarian movement in this country with the system we have in place. The only way for this large voting block to ever have power is in a multi-party proportional representation system, where “coalition governments” must form to get anything done.

In those political systems, the main parties usually cannot get a parliamentary majority on their own. Thus, in order to get anything done, they often must negotiate and compromise with a smaller party in order to move legislation forward. That smaller party then has an ongoing “veto power” over the actions of the legislature that persists long after election day. If the major party moves too far away, the coalition falls apart and the major party can’t get anything done.

America is the perfect place for a libertarian minority party which would have REAL power in a multi-party proportional representation system. The nation still retains much of the “rugged individualism” mindset that conquered the frontier, even if it continues to wane over time. Libertarians are thus a very sizable minority voting block, but our “winner takes all” system ensures that a 15% party will absolutely never get meaningful representation in our House or Senate. Swap that system to proportional representation, and libertarians will find their way into our legislature, and be able to do something to rein in the beast that we’ve created.

However, that’s never going to happen. Americans are too wed to the idea of being able to put a face and a name to “My Congressman” even if the guy from their district is ideologically lukewarm to everything they believe. I don’t believe we’ll ever see proportional representation absent a complete breakdown of the political process — and let’s face it, if that day comes we’ll all be worried about FAR more than how Congress is elected. We’ll be worried about riots in the streets.

So let’s just call the whole thing off. Fusionism isn’t just dead; it was stillborn. It’s never going to work. Libertarians should focus on other methods to advance our ideas, because all we’ll get from the major parties in fusionism is betrayal.