The Corner

Burke Scholar On Burke & Consistency

Apropos of yesterday’s discussion of Edmund Burke and the problem of consistency in matters political, professor Gary Glenn, a Burke scholar, sends the following thoughts: “In the practical world, Burke…thought prudence a greater good than abstract, theoretical consistency. Moreover, abstract consistency is not the same as practical consistency. A defender of Burke’s practical consistency…said that Burke changed his front but did not change his ground. Something like that is in the right direction for someone who has responsibility for acting in the real world. The demand to do to North Korea what we did to Iraq is ideological, not practical. It implies that either one should do nothing to rid the world of evils or that, having rid the world of one evil, one should be willing to rid the world of all evils. It’s demand for an abstract consistency, rather than a practical consistency, absorbs practical judgement about what is possible her and now into the metaphysic of an undergraduate. Burke thought…that the real world is too complicated and intractable to reform and be governed in that manner.” This is not a matter of justifying arbitrary practice, adds Glenn, but of consistently pursuing the right goals, even when that requires a temporary change of tactics or direction.

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