Most of the commentary on the shocking death of Andrew Breitbart focuses on his achievements in new media and technology. Those who loved him and those who hated him recall his pioneering innovations that have changed political activism — on both sides — forever.
Yet as important as these accomplishments are, they represent only half of his achievement. The great irony of Andrew Breitbart is that someone who was never regarded even by most of his allies as a “thinker” — much less as a political philosopher — advanced a key piece of conservative political philosophy. Breitbart geared the fledgling Tea Party movement and much of today’s center-right movement toward “fusionism” — in which defeating Big Government becomes a unifying force of the movement by bringing libertarians and traditionalist conservatives together. As he wrote last year in his book Righteous Indignation, “the need for freedom crossed all cultural, racial and political boundaries.”
Fusionism had its intellectual beginnings with Frank S. Meyer, a founding editor of National Review who, like Breitbart, made the journey from left to right (though in Meyer’s case it was a much further journey from hardcore communism, rather than Hollywood liberalism). I don’t know how familiar Breitbart was with Meyer’s writings, but he became one of the most effective advocates of Meyer’s philosophy through the platforms he created and specific causes he championed.
In his 1962 book In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo, Meyer made the case that freedom was the only path to virtue, because for an act to be virtuous, it cannot be coerced. “Acceptance of the moral authority derived from Transcendent criteria of truth and good must be voluntary if it is to have meaning,” he wrote. At the same time, as summarized by the Acton Institute for Religion and Liberty, Meyer believed that “without using force, intellectuals must persuade people of the virtuous path and must not be afraid to make moral judgments. After all, freedom itself is based on the moral principle that men are endowed with inalienable rights by their creator.”
Breitbart may not have shared all of the cultural beliefs of Meyer, who converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, but he did strongly believe in a moral framework and that big-government policies were obstructing this framework. In Righteous Indignation, he paints as the ideal that of his father, an entrepreneur who achieved success yet was oblivious to “keeping up with the Joneses.” Even though many celebrities patronized Gerald Breitbart’s Santa Monica steakhouse, Fox and Hounds, he would always say, “All my customers are the same.” Andrew Breitbart wrote, “My parents granted me a brilliant middle-class life, one that didn’t overwhelm and lavish spoils on me to the point of absurdity.”
The themes expressed in Breitbart’s own writings, and by contributors to BigGovernment.com and other of the “Big” sites, frequently center on how government intervention frustrates the building of a middle-class life.
In truth, Breitbart’s brought the center-right coalition together by making the culture war about Big Government. He and other contributors for the “Big” sites gave concrete examples of how statist policies undermine virtue. The ACORN exposes showed how government grants made it possible to subsidize the lifestyle of a pimp, plus ACORN’s longstanding role in the Fannie-Freddie-Community Reinvestment Act axis that undermined the traditional virtue of thrift — and crashed the economy — by subsidizing and mandating home loans that borrowers couldn’t afford.
Similarly, BigGovernment, run by movement veteran Mike Flynn, carries detailed but lively accounts (including some by yours truly and my CEI colleagues) on how bad government policies hurt those trying to achieve the American Dream. It has run several stories, for instance, that I and others have authored showing how the Dodd-Frank financial reform perpetuates bailouts and massively increases costs to consumers and entrepreneurs.
Breitbart may not have known he would be taken away so young, but through his selection of bright and energetic colleagues such as Flynn, he ensured that his fusionist legacy would live on. On behalf of my colleagues at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, our condolences to his wife, his four children, and all who were touched and energized by his work.