Burke died in 1797. His legacy has been hotly contested. In Edmund Burke in America, the historian Drew Maciag charts the use of Burke by US intellectuals. “Burke will be heard to say whatever needs to be said,” he argues. This is especially true of the past few decades. Neo-conservatives have used his anti-Jacobinism to call for strong military action in the cold war and after 9/11. Religious conservatives have cited Burke’s belief in Providence. Others, foreshadowing the Tea Party, have sought to parallel his reverence for the unwritten English constitution and the Glorious Revolution with theirs for the US constitution and the wars of independence.
In Maciag’s telling, Burke has been abused by American rightwing thinkers. His conservatism ends up appearing kaleidoscopic. Maciag implies that if the father of modern conservatism has spawned such diverse offspring, it makes no sense to think of a single, identifiable “conservatism”.
John McDermott’s “Burke & Sons” (Financial Times) goes further than a simple review however, briefly exploring to what extent Burke can be said to be the father of a thing called conservatism, touching on Maciag, Corey Robin and today’s UK politics on the way.