Meyer has done more than anyone in America to search out the metaphysics of freedom.
—William F. Buckley, Jr., Founding Editor, National Review
When it first appeared in 1962, In Defense of Freedom was hailed by Richard M. Weaver as "a brilliant defense of the primacy of the person" and an effective "indictment of statism and bureaucratism." Meyer examines the tension between the freedom of the person and the power of social institutions. In his view, both the dominant Liberalism and the "New Conservatism" of the American tradition place undue emphasis on the claims of social order at the expense of the individual person and liberty.
In addition, Meyer insists that liberty is essential to the pursuit of virtue. Therefore, to Meyer, the proper end of political thought and action is the establishment and preservation of freedom.The Liberty Fund edition also includes nine related essays: "Collectivism Rebaptized," "Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism," "Why Freedom," "In Defense of John Stuart Mill," "Conservatives in Pursuit of Truth," "Conservatism and Crisis: A Reply to Father Parry," "Libertarianism or Libertinism?" "Conservatism," and "Western Civilization: The Problem of Political Freedom."
"The underlying issue between conservative libertarianism and libertine libertarianism is at bottom a totally opposed view of the nature of destiny of men. The libertines—like those other products of the modern world, ritualistic liberals, socialists, Communists, fascists—are ideologues first and last. That is, they reject reality as it has been studied, grasped, understood, and acted upon in five thousand years or so of civilized history, and pose an abstract construction as the basis of action. They would replace God's creation of this multifarious, complex world in which we live, and substitute for it their own creation, simple, neat and inhuman—as inhuman as the blueprints of the bulldozing engineer.
The place of freedom in the spiritual economy of men is a high one indeed, but it is specific and not absolute. By its very nature, it cannot be an end of men's existence. Its meaning is essentially freedom from coercion, but that, important as it is, cannot be an end. It is empty of goal or norm. Its function is to relieve men of external coercion so that the Y may freely seek their good.
It is for this reason that libertarian conservatives champion freedom as the end of the political order's politics, which is, at its core, the disposition of force in society, will, if not directed towards this end, create massive distortions and obstacles in men's search for their good. But that said, an equally important question remains. Free, how are men to use their freedom? The libertine answers that they should do what they want. Sometimes, in the line of the philosophers of the French Revolution, he arbitrarily posits the universal benevolence of human beings. He presumes that if everyone does whatever he wants, everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But whether so optimistically qualified or not, his answer ignores the hard facts of history. For it is only in civilization that men have begun to rise towards their potentiality; and civilization is a fragile growth, constantly menaced by the dark forces that suck man back towards his brutal beginnings."