The Right Coast

December 12, 2005
Krauthammer: Another Fusionist
By Mike Rappaport

The New York Times runs a piece on Charles Krauthammer and his defense of torture in limited circumstances -- a defense that I recently praised on this blog. The Times notes that Krauthammer is a fusionist, combining elements of realism and neoconservatism in foreign policy:

As if such distinctions were not complicated enough, Mr. Krauthammer has developed his own ideological categories, identifying himself as a "democratic realist" - which he says is someone who believes the United States "will support democracy everywhere," but only commit "blood and treasure" - that is, troops - in places that present an overwhelming threat to the existence of the United States. For him, that meant Iraq in 1991 and 2003, but not Bosnia.

To most casual readers, such distinctions may come across as a muddle, but in intellectual circles, discerning Mr. Krauthammer's leanings is a parlor sport. Is he a neoconservative? A realist? Some mixture of the two? Or something else?
It is Krauthammer's combining of these two positions that makes his view so compelling to me.

Over the years, I have come to realize that I am strongly attracted to such fusionist positions. So I agree with Krauthammer's democratic realism. But I also embrace Hayek's fusion between libertarian and traditionalist elements and Richard Epstein's fusion of libertarian and utilitarian principles. I could go on. Even in the area of constitutional adjudication, while I am an originalist, I also believe there is an important role for precedent.

What is it about fusionist positions that is so compelling? In my view, the two sides of a debate often have their strong points. The fusionist position can often secure the strong points of both sides and therefore it is quite attractive. One need not ignore or deny an important part of the truth. One can incorporate it.

The trick is to combine these positions in a principled way -- to avoid an ad hoc position that does not explain why one principle applies in some circumstances and another in other circumstances. When one can combine two positions under a single principle, the fusionist position becomes irresistable. Or to put it differently, it is then clearly closer to the truth than either of the two polar positions with which it competes.