We are in the midst of a fascinating moment, when much seems up for grabs for one of the United States’ political parties. As the GOP looks to right its ship after the disastrous adventures of the Bush administration, a number of conservative writers have understandably begun to re-examine what conservatism is. Meanwhile, the success of Obama has raised the stock of the word “pragmatic,” even if for the most part the word is tossed about in a pretty vague fashion, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has noted.
So it should not be a surprise to those like me who admit to some schadenfruede at the right’s current predicament to see that one move currently gaining ground is an attempt to claim that conservatism was pragmatic all along. Thus is conservatism to be kept well clear of the rising toxicity levels of the word “ideology.” Of course, to make this move to higher ground stick, one must aim to make a pragmatist of the granddaddy of all conservative thinkers, Edmund Burke. And while Sam Tanenhaus, Andrew Sullivan, and most recently David Brooks have all jumped on board to re-chart this territory, there is only one problem: what Burke actually wrote.