Claimed by both the right (he stood against the French Revolution) and the left (he was a sage skeptic of colonialism), Edmund Burke tends to get lost amidst competing partisan appropriations of his legacy. Was there a unifying core to his words and deeds? Brian Doyle argues it was his pragmatism:
For two centuries people with every sort of idea have picked over Burke’s writings for their own benefit and justification; and the lesson of their success is not that Burke was mercurial and changeable, but that he was relentlessly interested only in what worked, what was best for the most, what was real and what was high-flown nonsense or worse. “Again and again, revert to your own principles—seek peace and ensure it,” he roared in Parliament, during the bitter debates about America. “I do not enter into … metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them.” It is ironic that a man who wrote and spoke with such imaginative flair, with such moving eloquence, was himself unmoved, as a rule, by flights of fancy.
(Image: Sir Joshua Reynolds painting of Edmund Burke in the National Portrait Gallery, London)