Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Political Science, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jean Reith Schroedel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Melissa Rogers

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Susan McWilliams Barndt

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Savannah E Johnston


American political thought, Conservatism, Fusion, Illiberal


The modern conservative movement, also known as the fusion, is the result of a powerful anti-communist coalition constructed in the late 1950s. The fusion movement sought to bring two competing schools of political thought, traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism, into a coalition powerful enough to fight communism abroad and thwart progressivism at home. These two traditions are unlikely and unnatural allies, for they disagree on fundamental questions, such as the purpose of government, human nature, the meaning of equality, and the definition of freedom. In fact, traditionalist conservatism has long been deeply critical of the liberal project. The implications of this deep theoretical division among conservatives were largely masked by the fusion's united front against communism. For forty years, the movement largely towed the line of the compromise, emphasizing social conservatism, muscular internationalism, and free market economics. With the downfall of communism, the theoretical divide within the fusion movement between traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals became more pronounced. The moderating influence of the fusion gave way to a push for theoretical purity in the absence of a common enemy, and external factors such as the rise of new media and the neoconservatives' fall from grace in the mid 2000s made room at the table for more radical segments. This dissertation demonstrates how modern conservatism was always theoretically divided and how illiberalism – or the theoretical critique of liberalism – has slowly gained the upper hand within the conservative intellectual movement. Using the archives of National Review, the preeminent conservative publication and guardian of the fusion movement, this dissertation traces the growing divide between the two traditions and the concomitant rise of illiberalism through the development of key concepts and policies, including nationhood and immigration, free markets and trade, and the role of the state in reinforcing tradition and morality.