On a flank of the White Mountains not far from the Maine state line lies a small New Hampshire town called Albany, population 735. Every seven years, town officials arrange for a surveyor to walk the boundaries of the town, clearing brush, cleaning up markers, and checking to see whether a neighboring, larger town might be creeping into Albany territory. For its part, mandated by the state constitution, that neighboring town is doing just the same thing, lest Albany be perfidious.
This is just the sort of conservative institution of which Edmund Burke, that Irish-born English champion of American independence, would approve.
Now, kindly bear with me. Winston Churchill called himself a conservative, though he championed most aspects of a comprehensive welfare state. Mitt Romney calls himself a conservative, though he argues rigorously against anything that smacks of entitlement, at least entitlement for those who are not already entitled. Sarah Palin is a conservative. So is John McCain, and so is John Major, and so is John Dean. Hillary Clinton is reckoned a conservative Democrat. Against this confusion, does the word conservative have meaning today? Can it fruitfully be applied to the politics of two-dozen decades past and convey the same meaning to different members of the audience?
Back to Edmund Burke. Born of a Catholic mother and Protestant...